On word, worship and obedience

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Pastors corner with Fr Henry Ibe

In the Gospel today, Jesus sets out on a mission of fasting and prayer in the wilderness, to battle the devil and to save humanity from sin and alienation. The forty days in the wilderness symbolizes a period of great physical and spiritual challenges. Noah was in the Ark for forty days during the Great Flood(Gen.7: 4, 17), Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Sinai (Ex.34:28), Elijah also fasted for forty days too(1 Kings 19:8), while the prophet Jonah gave the people of Nineveh forty days to repent or face the wrath of God. (Jonah 3:4). It makes sense, then, that our Lenten season goes for forty days.

Today, the devil tempts our Lord with deceptive offers. To be sure, the devil is not some creepy, fearsome-looking creature in the dark corner of the street but rather that very powerful drivewithin us that plays on our disordered appetites. The devil is the interior force that tricks us into trading our eternal glory for momentary bouts of pleasure. The devil manipulates our need for security, power, prestige and vanity. This he does by showing us partial images that make us develop a false sense of security and presume ourselves to be invincible. That is the reason smart people do stupid things, and supposedly holy people do unholy things.

Talking about partial images, we see the devil saying to Jesus: “He will put his angels in charge of you, to guard you.” He was quoting Psalm 90 (v.11), which happens to be the Responsorial Psalm today. But that’s not the full picture because the early part of the Psalm states the conditions attached to the promise. It talks about dwelling in the shelter of God and trusting in him. But the devil shows us only half the image, garnished with glamorous lies in order to distract us from our divine mission in life. The devil is always striving to pin our minds on momentary pleasures. Our Lord was hungry both for food and for the conversion of human hearts in the wilderness and through these the devil sought to ensnare him.

First, he asks Jesus to turn a stone into bread. Surely, material goods and life’s pleasures are good and desirable but the satisfaction they bring does not endure. It is such a paradox that suicide rates are far higher in rich countries than in poor ones. We can be sure that only Jesus can bring us lasting satisfaction because man, as he says, cannot live on bread alone but on the Word of God. Next, the devil promises to give Jesus all the political kingdoms of the world if the Lord would just worship him. But we know that earthly power doesn’t last either. Only in God can we find enduring stability and gain the responsible use of political power. Outside of him we become power-drunk, ruthless egomaniacs. And that is why Jesus says to the devil: “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” Finally, the devil says to him: “If you are the son of God…throw yourself down from here.”

We all have the tendency to impress and sometimes we struggle with the need to be needed by others, which makes us go over the top just to win the approval of others. But we know that human opinion is inconsistent while God’s opinion is solid and that’s all we need.Jesus knew this and cautioned the devil against putting him as God to the test.

Jesus surely knew he was the Son of God and did not need to prove that to anyone. If only we knew who we truly are and what glory truly awaits us in heaven, we would not dare to offend God trying to impress anyone. And we would not dare to be overconfident or presumptuous of our human strength. Such a mind set easily blinds us to glaring occasions of sin, and we end up falling. That is why Jesus, aware of the full picture, makes it clear to the devil and to us that only the Word of God, the exclusive worship of God, and a perfect obedience to God are the key to life and happiness.

Jesus countered each temptation by referring to the Scripture, the fountain of the full picture of God’s plan for our eternal happiness. We are called to read and meditate on Scripture in order to be familiar with the plan of God for our salvation. Jesus leaves no room for trial and error and neither should we. We must keep an eye on the devil as he is always seeking to play on our desires, to flatter us into trusting in ourselves more than God. When that happens, we put an artificial limit on our spiritual vitality, fruitfulness and joy. We become less than we truly are- we love less, we learn less; we have less joy, less enthusiasm, and less creativity. We become prisoners of our desires.

But, in union with Jesus, we can overcome every temptation. As Scripture says: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb. 2:18). Every temptation should be for us an opportunity to reaffirm our complete trust in Jesus. This Lent, therefore, we must resolve to resist temptation with every fibre of our being, knowing that: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Cor.10:13).

We must always insist on the full picture and never settle for less than God is giving us. And so, we pray: Lord, may your light conquer the darkness of ignorance in us, and let not temptation ever quench the fire that your love had kindled in our hearts. Amen!